Partnership brings methane-generated feed protein to Texas

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Nordroden
© GettyImages/Nordroden

Related tags Single cell protein novel protein

Unibio is partnering with Core Protein to establish a methane-to-protein production facility in Texas to supply the US and international feed markets with single cell protein.

The Denmark-based industrial biotech company announced last week that it was working with Core Protein to locate a new single-cell protein (SCP) production facility in Texas having previously signed a master license agreement. The site will use Unibio’s vertical U-Loop fermentation technology.  

Core Protein is a Core Capital company and focused on generating protein to support increased global demand. At the new site, it will be focusing on the scalable production of single-cell protein generated from methane, using Unibio’s technology.

The company had been following the growth and development of Unibio and its technology for some time, which led to the partnership, said Ron Yair, managing partner with Core Protein.

The American market was of interest because it provides access to the methane or natural gas feedstock needed to generate the single-cell protein feed ingredient Unibio’s fermentation technology produces and the country has the “second-largest feed market in the world,” ​said Henrik Busch-Larsen, Unibio Group CEO.

“These two factors make it very interesting to locate in the US,” ​he told FeedNavigator. “And especially Texas, where you have a lot of the available and existing infrastructure for a project such as ours.”

The two companies have been working on the project for a while, he said. The next step is to pick a location for the new facility.

“We have also sort of zeroed in on some potential sites that look very interesting for us,”​ Busch-Larsen said. “We are also discussing with various providers in terms of getting the feedstocks needed.”

Texas and siting the facility

The site needs to provide for logistics solutions, like having access to raw materials for use in the production of the single-cell protein, UniProtein, along with the availability of multiple modes of transportation, Yair told us. There is also interest in finding a site with existing infrastructure.

“You need to ensure that not only do you have the availability of natural gas and a large market for the protein, but also [that] the talent pool from which we need to hire a fairly large number of folks is there, and there is a large talent pool in Texas,”​ he added.

“In terms of timeline, it will be sometime first half next year when we will do the groundwork,” ​added Busch-Larsen regarding the planned facility. “That’s as much as I can say at this point.”

Along with the large market for protein to be used in animal feed, a facility in Texas also provides options for exporting the feed ingredient, he said. “If you look at the map Texas is a good location for looking at domestic markets and also for the wider opportunity to get the product out to other markets,” ​he added.

“We live in a global, interconnected world where products are shipped all day, every day, from all parts of the world to other locations [and] there is no difference when it comes to protein,”​ said Yair. “If you look at the current protein market, it may be produced in one location and consumed in another, so transportation is really key and part of the reason we will produce in Texas. One of the advantages associated with our likely location in the Houston area would be access to various modes of transportation – highway, rails, ports – they all exist and are highly developed in Texas.”

The protein ingredient is intended for use in feeds for several production species, said Busch-Larsen. Adding, “The focus areas for us right now would be aquaculture, but also pig feed – those are the two main sectors for us at the moment.”

The market response to the feed protein has been positive, he said. The company has been developing the technology and providing samples of the ingredient.

“Once we [send] the samples to the potential buyers of the protein we get very good feedback from them,” ​he added. “We’re expecting good market acceptance for the product.”

“We’re providing a lot of value by having a product where you can have stable production, especially when looking at the volatility in the market [and] when looking at a product such as fishmeal,”​ Busch-Larsen said. “We have the opportunity to have a stable supply at stable prices, and I think that’s a value-added in the market.

“And from an environmental perspective, this is a product where you don’t use any farmland producing the protein,” ​he added. “This is fully decoupled from agriculture and at the same time we would be using very significantly less water in the process.”

From a global perspective, the Unibio technology has the chance to provide multiple benefits for different regions, he said. It is also an opportunity to move protein production into industry leaving farmland for the production for food crops rather than livestock feed.

Previous development

In addition to the facility in Texas, Unibio also announced​ earlier this month that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the General Investment Authority of Saudi Arabia (SAGIA) and is in the process of establishing a facility in Saudi Arabia.

The planned facility is anticipated to generate about 50,000 tons of SCP a year and used to support livestock and aquaculture production in the region and supply the Asian market.

The location is expected to be picked in the next few months followed by an 18- to 24-month construction period.

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